November 28, 2011

why fall is a bad time to start vegetables

I am getting all excited about growing lettuces and new varieties of greens that I haven't seen before but now is just is not the time.  It is still warm enough out but the real issue is lack of light.  At this time of year - late fall - five o'clock comes around and it is dark as midnight.  This affects plants just as it affects people.   Less than ten hours of sunlight significantly decreases the amount of growing leafy greens will do.

These little spinach plants illustrate this idea.  They were planted over a month ago and have a nice warm growing space inside a cold frame but grow very slowly because day-length has been decreasing.  Combating this dilemma is simple but requires a bit of planning (or planting!) ahead.  Greens and some other vegetables planted in late August and early September will have had ample time to reach maturity by now and will continue to "hang out" in the garden for a long time even when days are short and the nights get chilly.

Kale is a perfect example of cool hardy vegetable that will live in the garden.  Just make sure you plant extra at then end of summer.   Most cool hardy vegetables can survive light frosts.  Further protection from cold frames and row covers can help stretch the season a bit longer.  Cooler temperatures increase sugar and nutrient levels in vegetable making them even tastier.

November 23, 2011


Endive, lettuce, arugula and chervil from Johnny's Seed Co.

What is mesclun?  The traditional French mix included only endive, lettuce, arugula and chervil, but now it can include any number of baby greens harvested and mixed together.

November 10, 2011

plant profile: lettuce

Lactuca sativa
Asteraceae family 



VarietiesThere are hundreds of lettuce varieties but we'll only be using leaf lettuces - those that don't form heads. Leaf lettuce seeds can be purchased as a few pre-mixed varieties which are chosen to compliment each other.

CultureLettuce is a cool loving crop best grown between 60 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit, but can grow in temperatures as low as 40 degrees. For salad mix or baby-leaf size sow seeds in a 2-4 inch band with about 40 seeds per foot.  Cover lightly with soil and keep it moist.



plant profile: spinach

Spinach is my favorite green.  

It is not fast growing like some of the brassicas.  Nor does it have sexy colored viens like swiss chard or red russian kale.  Harvesting spinach can be a true labor of love when each leaf has to be cut individually.  Despite all of this, spinach is great.  No, it's beyond great - it is one really cool plant.  Here's why:

~ Spinach is a diecious crop meaning there are male and female plants.  In the absence of any male pollen producing plants female flowers can ‘revert’ to become pollen-producing flowersenabling continuation of the sexual reproduction cycle.  

~ Spinach is one of the hardiest leaf crops. It grows best in sandy, porous soil but can adapt to a wide range of soils.  Spinach germinates best in cool soil and can germinate at temperatures as low as 35 degrees Fahrenheit.  

~ Spinach can grow at very low temperatures.  Other leafy crops can tolerate the cold but will not grow.  Spinach grown in the cold has higher concentrations of nutrients like vitamin C as well as higher sugar levels.

November 8, 2011

building the low tunnels

We have two kinds of benches, wood sided and metal sides.  
The wood ones are way easier to drill into, but either way setting up hoops on them is pretty easy.  

We used:

9' long pieces of 1/2 inch PVC
metal brackets
tech screws or metal to wood screws

The bottom of each bench is covered with a layer of clear plastic since our goal is to build a sealed chamber.  The plastic is a bit brown because it had been used once in the field.  Next we covered each tunnel with a different kind of cloth or plastic to see what effect they would have on internal temperatures.  Each tunnel has a temperature sensor that measures temperature on the hour so all we have to do is sit back and wait.